Preservation Planning Standards

Preservation planning is a process that organizes preservation activities (identification, evaluation, registration and treatment of historic properties) in a logical sequence. The Standards for Planning discuss the relationship among these activities while the remaining activity standards consider how each activity should be carried out. The Professional Qualifications Standards discuss the education and experience required to carry out various activities.

The Standards for Planning outline a process that determines when an area should be examined for historic properties, whether an identified property is significant, and how a significant property should be treated.

Preservation planning is based on the following principles:

  • Important historic properties cannot be replaced if they are destroyed. Preservation planning provides for conservative use of these properties, preserving them in place and avoiding harm when possible and altering or destroying properties only when necessary.

  • If planning for the preservation of historic properties is to have positive effects, it must begin before the identification of all significant properties has been completed. To make responsible decisions about historic properties, existing information must be used to the maximum extent and new information must be acquired as needed.

  • Preservation planning includes public participation. The planning process should provided a forum for open discussion of preservation issues. Public involvement is most meaningful when it is used to assist in defining values of properties and preservation planning issues, rather than when it is limited to review of decisions already made. Early and continuing public participation is essential to the broad acceptance of preservation planning decisions.

Preservation planning can occur at several levels or scales: in a project area; in a community; in a State as a whole; or in the scattered or contiguous landholdings of a Federal agency. Depending on the scale, the planning process will involve different segments of the public and professional communities and the resulting plans will vary in detail. For example, a State preservation plan will likely have more general recommendations than a plan for a project area or a community. The planning process described in these Standards is flexible enough to be used at all levels while providing a common structure which promotes coordination and minimizes duplication of effort. The Guidelines for Preservation Planning contain additional information about how to integrate various levels of planning.

Standard I. Preservation Planning Establishes Historic Contexts

Decisions about the identification, evaluation, registration and treatment of historic properties are most reliably made when the relationship of individual properties to other similar properties is understood. Information about historic properties representing aspects of history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture must be collected and organized to define these relationships. This organizational framework is called a "historic context." The historic context organizes information based on a cultural theme and its geographical and chronological limits. Contexts describe the significant broad patterns of development in an area that may be represented by historic properties. The development of historic contexts is the foundation for decisions about identification, evaluation, registration and treatment of historic properties.

Standard II. Preservation Planning Uses Historic Contexts to Develop Goals and Priorities for the Identification, Evaluation, Registration and Treatment of Historic Properties

A series of preservation goals is systematically developed for each historic context to ensure that the range of properties representing the important aspects of each historic context is identified, evaluated and treated. Then priorities are set for all goals identified for each historic context. The goals with assigned priorities established for each historic context are integrated to produce a comprehensive and consistent set of goals and priorities for all historic contexts in the geographical area of a planning effort.

The goals for each historic context may change as new information becomes available. The overall set of goals and priorities are then altered in response to the changes in the goals and priorities for the individual historic contexts.

Activities undertaken to meet the goals must be designed to deliver a usable product within a reasonable period of time. The scope of the activity must be defined so the work can be completed with available budgeted program resources.

Standard III. The Results of Preservation Planning are Made Available for Integration into Broader Planning Processes

Preservation of historic properties is one element of larger planning processes. Planning results, including goals and priorities, information about historic properties, and any planning documents, must be transmitted in a usable form to those responsible for other planning activities. Federally mandated historic preservation planning is most successfully integrated into project management planning at an early stage. Elsewhere, this integration is achieved by making the results of preservation planning available to other governmental planning bodies and to private interests whose activities affect historic properties.

Part of a series of articles titled Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation.

Last updated: May 13, 2020